Illinois State senior Alex Hibbard-Brown has played the cello with the Illinois State Symphony Orchestra since her freshman year. Though each academic year the orchestra performs six concert cycles and plays some of the most challenging music in the orchestral repertoire, her favorite performance is the annual Music for All concert. This year’s performance took place on the morning of October 30 in the Center for the Performing Arts.
Unlike a typical orchestra concert, the audience is invited to clap and dance along as the orchestra performs.
“Making noises is encouraged, so it’s always a very inclusive atmosphere,” said Hibbard-Brown, an instrumental music education major from Libertyville. “There’s never a time where we’re telling people to be quiet. We want people to sing along and just do what feels natural to them, and it puts a smile on my face every year.”
The annual event was started by Dr. Glenn Block, the director of orchestras and professor of conducting, almost 10 years ago. By allowing the audience to get involved with the music and express themselves as they see fit, Block incorporates aspects of music therapy into the concert experience.
“Music therapy has documented evidence of how important music is in aiding various illnesses and challenges,” he said. “(The concert) provides a dimension for families that may not have had a way to see how music can assist in the growing up and evolution of their own children.”
Before the performance, students in the orchestra and members of AMTA-S ISU, the Illinois State chapter of the American Music Therapy Association, stood in different areas of the venue’s atrium and demonstrated how to use the instruments before allowing attendees to try them out themselves. Instruments included conga drums, wooden noisemakers, a stepping piano, and—a fan favorite—Boomwhackers, hollow plastic tubes tuned to different musical notes by length.
When the concert began, the conductor, Matthew Clarke, walked the audience of roughly 50 parents and young children through the composition of the orchestra. He explained the makeup of the four instrument families that could be found onstage: woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion. Each section then stood alone to play a short sample of the Indiana Jones theme, “The Raider’s March,” a selection enthusiastically recognized by the audience.
Then a second conductor, Guilherme Rodrigues, introduced the concept of rhythm in music. He defined the term for the audience and encouraged the audience to clap and dance along as they played another short piece that demonstrated rhythm.
This year the concert’s theme was stormy weather. Block described this theme as “descriptive, impressionistic, and colorful,” as the music associated with it consists of lively representations of nature. Prior to each piece played the conductors, who switched off between compositions, outlined the stories that would be heard in the music. A common narrative in the pieces followed the life of a storm, from a slow drizzle at the start, to a ferocious thunder at its peak, and then the birds chirping at the rain’s end.
At many points throughout the concert the conductors encouraged the kids in the audience to shake egg shakers, which were given to them during the preshow activities. The children excitedly shook the instruments to the changing rhythm of the music: slow during the drizzle, fast during the storm, and slow once more at the ends of the compositions.
The close of the hourlong performance was met with enthusiastic applause, followed by lively chatter throughout the concert hall as the children, some still playing with their egg shakers, recapped their favorite parts of the show to their parents.
This display was representative of one of Block’s hopes for the event: “That parents will see something happening in their own kids as they have an experience and fascination with the sounds.”